Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Poetry Canadian

If Language

by (author) Gregory Betts

Book*hug Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2005
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2005
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Most anagrammaticians satisfy their urge with the rearranged name of a celebrity (Marshall McLuhan = Malls launch harm) or perhaps, if more adventurous, a familiar aphorism (The Medium is the Message = The Media is the Muse’s Gem). The true devotees of the clan turn to games like Scrabble and Humbug. Gregory Betts’ If Language takes this one-time parlour game to its evolutionary extreme, constructing 56 paragraph-long perfect anagrams of an original seed-text. Each poem is exactly 525 letters; the same letters that echo throughout the book is radically different forms. These poems test the endless possibilities of the constraint. They tell the mystical history of anagrams, from its use by early scientists to escape Christian zealots to Rosicrucian symbology to Greek mythology to Kabbalism. They explore how individualities happen in words and limited vocabularies. If Language asks the question: what are the limits of individuality within a closed system? Betts uses his own experiences, relationships and uncertainties to explore this question with humour, with intellect, and with a manic obsession capable of turning a simple game into this wildly original exploration.

About the author

GREGORY BETTS is a poet, editor, essayist and teacher, originally from Vancouver and Toronto. Since his first published poem, an anagrammatical translation of a short poem by bpNichol, Betts's work has consistently troubled individual authorship through such mechanisms as anagrams, collaboration, found-texts and response-text writing. If Language presents paragraph-length anagrams that explore the formation of meaning within a recombinant linguistic system. Haikube was part of a collaborative art project with sculptors Matt Donovan and Hallie Siegel in which six of Betts's poems were carved into an ebony movable (a la Rubiks) cube. The text was carved in negative relief, which allowed the cube to function as a press block to print new poems as they were 'discovered' by moving the sides of the cube. Betts currently lives in St. Catharines, where he edits PRECIPICe magazine, curates the Grey Borders Reading Series and teaches Avant-Garde and Canadian Literature at Brock University.

Gregory Betts' profile page

Editorial Reviews

"Extraordinary, fragmented writing, sudden illuminations, sensational passages followed by moving moments, an exhilarating imagination, and with all that, energy, and power." —Le Devoir,/i>

Other titles by Gregory Betts